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WORDSMITH: Reuben Lynch today as a toastmaster

FORMER ARMY sergeant Reuben Lynch plans his social events for 2016 with military precision. A year planner dominates his kitchen wall where yellow dots indicate dinners and scores of green and blue dots are for weddings.

But these are not events where Reuben will be celebrating – as Britain’s first professional black toastmaster with his trademark red long-tailed coat, he will be making sure these landmark occasions go without a hitch.

The man who spent the last ten years of his Army career managing a NATO officers’ mess in Germany makes it all look easy as I have witnessed many times, but that’s because for the past 22 years he’s done his homework on a role he’s made his own.

“In this job, being black was probably the best thing that ever happened to me because I stand out and people remember me,” said Reuben, who left sunshine kissed Montserrat for the frost of a British winter in the 1960s.

“However some black people don’t like it and I have been called an artificial white man before now,” he said. “In the Army during the 1980s officers nicknamed me Benson after the butler in the American TV sitcom, but I loved it.”

It takes a lot to ruffle Reuben, who perfected his toastmastering skills and event management after working as banqueting manager for a major hotel in the Midlands following his departure from the Army. While in the military he was given the chance to train as a butler in Aldershot.

“At first I wasn’t keen, but once I got into the course I buckled down and ended up with the highest marks. I researched Orders of Chivalry and different forms of address, etiquette and protocol. There are different codes for different occasions. The key is doing your homework because that gives you the confidence to keep your cool. When things go wrong everyone looks at the man in the red jacket!

“As toastmaster you have to be master of ceremonies, a diplomat, an announcer, a presenter, a compere armed with a pocketful of phrases to smooth out any awkward slip-ups.

“You have to act with authority and dignity without being overbearing, while freeing the event host of any of the anxieties that go with organising a major occasion. I often help with speech writing and the general organisation of the event.”

One of his highlights in the Army was meeting Princess Anne when she visited the NATO base in Germany.

“I remember being flown back to England to collect some Malvern water for her,” said Reuben. “I can even remember the menu all these years later.”

NATIONAL SERVICE: His Army days were positive reinforcement for Lynch

The Princess clearly remembered Reuben too because several years later when she was attending an event in Birmingham where Reuben was toastmaster, she asked if he was the same man who had been in charge in Germany.

A few seconds spent with Reuben and you realise that manners are so important to him. His beaming smile greets every visitor to the home he shares with his wife Pat near Bidford-on-Avon – I was even offered a beautiful sponge cake made in my honour!

Pat, his wife of more than 40 years, who Reuben met when he was stationed in Long Marston, personifies the saying: ‘behind every good man is a good woman’.

“I’m the back room person and Reuben is very front-of-house, but it works for us,” she said, as she answered the phone which rang off the hook with people requesting for Reuben’s skills.

He is now looking at leaving a toastmaster’s legacy and has trained two young Jamaican men and a young Nigerian woman in this art and hopes more ethnic minority contenders will step forward.

He is a lecturer at University College Birmingham in event management, which includes manners, etiquette, protocol and most importantly cultural awareness.

“In today’s world if you do not have cultural awareness you are an accident waiting to happen,” says Reuben, who is the founder and president of the Circle of Toastmasters.

“I believe the single barrier to business success can often be a cultural one.”

Reuben has come a long way from the time he arrived in London in his shorts fearing that he was losing his breath because he could see it coming out of his mouth!

“My dad came here to work and he found a job as a dustman before he sent for us,” said Reuben, who was one of nine siblings.

“He couldn’t read or write and that’s why he wanted a different life for us and put so much emphasis on education. I was determined never to let him down.”

Reuben has done his dad proud.

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